Come to Daddy may not reach the frenzied, hallucinatory heights of Mandy, but even as a little brother it’s not all that far off.
The cringey confrontation of Freudian father issues explodes into gonzo ultraviolence in Ant Timpson’s feature debut, Come to Daddy. Opening with the awkward Norval (Elijah Wood) arriving on the doorstep of his long-estranged father (Stephen McHattie), the film exudes a palpable tension even in the father and son’s most innocuous interaction, which quickly unfurls into almost unbearable hostility. All this before a bonkers twist that ramps up the outlandish mayhem to garishly absurd levels.
Sporting a hideous bowl cut and porn-star mustache, Norval arrives on the doorstep of his dad’s elaborate pad with his huge, soulful eyes quivering with optimism. A privileged man-child desperate to impress the father he only knows from decades-old photographs, Norval is hopeful that the reconciliatory letter he received from his absent pops will rekindle a relationship long dead. He brags about close relationships he purports to have with the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Elton John, even as his dad turns up his nose at the fact Norval refuses to have a drink with him because of alcohol dependency issues.
When Norval’s dad activates Freudian castration anxiety in Norval through crude insults, a violent clash seems inevitable, but the bizarre heights to which Come to Daddy takes this gory outpouring transcends mere exploitation by underpinning everything with Norval’s desperate desire to be loved. As a broader conspiracy begins to take shape, Norval’s desperation transitions to hope once again as he works to save another father figure (Martin Donovan) from a grimy clutches of grotesque villain Jethro (Michael Smiley). The film gets somewhat unpleasantly scatological at times but melds the gross-out elements with imaginative violence that uses everyday items like pens and memo spindles as lethal weapons.
Having produced oddball comedy-horror films like The Greasy Strangler, Deathgasm and The ABCs of Death series, Timpson brings a similarly off-kilter sensibility to his directorial debut. Likewise, with Wood having produced Mandy, there are echoes of that Nicolas Cage-fueled psychedelic thriller here as well. Driven by a committed performance by Wood, who is perfectly cast as the pitiful, teetotaling Norval, the film succeeds because it embraces its oddness without succumbing to overkill. Vivid colors permeate the more elaborately strange scenes, adding to the fever-dreamlike atmosphere. Likewise, the father-son dynamic bends but doesn’t break. Though it relies on one of the more well-worn storytelling devices, the plot works here because of the unexpectedly strange avenues this film takes it down.
A movie that’s grotesque and macabre, funny and frantic, Come to Daddy isn’t especially memorable even given its lurid subject matter, but it nevertheless offers a vivid and visceral thrill ride of exploitation. Succeeding largely due to its own shameless audacity, it hinges perhaps a bit too much on its Shyamalanian twist, but nevertheless the juxtaposition of the intensity of a criminal conspiracy with the inherent tension of such a tense family reunion hits more than it misses. That rare film that transcends its B-movie trappings by gleefully embracing them, Come to Daddy may not reach the frenzied, hallucinatory heights of Mandy, but even as a little brother it’s not all that far off.